Friday, 19 July 2013

Willow weaving

When I left Canada/Vancouver Island I had recently begun to investigate and embrace basket weaving. An encounter with Cedar and the Sacred Grandmother left me wishing for more... instruction, knowledge and understanding.

I created, with help, (Thank you Maria and Sacred Grandmother Cedar) a basket from the branches and bark of one of the last tipi poles I ever harvested. It felt right to be utilizing all of her, working the branches into a usable if primitive carrier.

My research determined that there were still Basketry schools in Germany and France, plus a number of museums and a culture in Europe that supported the artisans who grow, harvest and create with willow.

Willow is the historic and quintessential material here, from the ubiquitous shopping basket to wood carriers, baby carriages, bread holders, fishing creels, laundry baskets and the beach basket chairs lining the seashore and beaches all over Germany. From fencing to hats and split for the finest of work, willow works well.

So I wanted an immersion, an introduction and download of as much information as I could assimilate. The museums unfortunately were closed all winter and I wondered "How was I going to get it?"
In the spring the local castle in Blankenhain hosts a basketry display and plant sale where the numerous examples of utility and whimsy excited my passion again.
A flyer from the Deutsches Fletchwerk Association had me surfing the net, writing to contacts and somewhat excited about German weaving terms: more vocabulary!  Then I got onto the British weaving websites and things really began to move for me. I contacted Mary Butcher to purchase her book Willow Work.
In response to my request for an English speaking instructor Hansgert and Ursula Butterwerk invited me to spend 3 days at their home and workshop.
I knew I was truly and completely there when on arrival I saw many bundles or 'bolts' of willow withes or 'rods' leaning up beside the back door, willow soaking in long tubs and green willow upright in water, roots formed and leaves sprouting.

 Inside a chaotic (to me) assembly of power tools, started projects, bending jigs and more willow along with cane, rattan and likely a whole lot of material I didn't recognize. 

The Butterwerks also manage a basketry museum including a a studio/workshop and gallery where local artists display their works and create cultural events. A former weaver's residence,  the museum documents the rise and fall of basketry in Dalhausen village. Old photographs and small dioramas illustrate how the people lived and worked with willow. The tools, benches and pictures, along with many examples of the types of baskets they produced, are spread throughout the building. The journey through is well organized and with Hansgert guiding I received an incredible amount of relevant information in the short time we were there.

For the next three days I was immersed in the culture of willow; talking, working and examining as I made  willow circles, then bottoms: the base or 'slath' of a basket in brown (with bark) and white (without). The smell of those wet rods took me back ... I don't know where, but it was familiar, very familiar from long ago.

One evening we piled into the car and headed north to Rheder (Brakel) where the locals had harvested willow into bundles and under the direction of a Swiss architect created an outdoor willow "building" or pavilion earlier that spring. I had dreamed of someday doing something like that.
Each day I managed to create a number of samples under Hansgert's able and friendly direction. He was generous with advice, and happily described his work and projects he was engaged in creating. Ursula popped in and out daily, working her shift at the Museum as well as producing gourmet meals for us. She and Hansgert met at the Basketry College in Lichtenfels.
By the last day I was close to full. I completed a simple yet complex bread basket in white willow that one starts upside down then turns inside out, slowly tightening the rods together in threes.
Still excited, still committed to learning more, I filled my cup. I'll have room for more at another time.

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